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Geneva talks – in vain again

By Ernest Petrosyan
Thursday, October 6
The 17th round of Geneva talks, at which the Georgian side put forward a concrete proposal regarding security measures and international supervision in the occupied regions, ended in vain. The Georgian side also demanded the release of Georgian citizens imprisoned in Tskhinvali. Moscow with its proxy representatives from Sukhumi and Tskhinvali however rejected the projects on confidence restoration and completely disregarded the IDP issues.

The Geneva talks were held in the usual format of two working groups with the first one discussing security-related issues and the second one - humanitarian issues. However, no agreements were reached in either group. Talks, co-chaired by the EU, UN and OSCE, involve negotiators, or as they are formally referred “participants”, from Georgia, Russia and the United States, as well as from Sukhumi and Tskhinvali.

“The negotiations ended without any progress. It was unfortunate that Moscow’s position regarding important issues still remains unchanged. They do not come easily regarding any issue, even on relatively simple ones, we expected them [the Russian side] to express readiness for constructive cooperation, but they weren't. For instance they opposed confidence restoration between the two parties and the IDP return issue. Moscow’s position regarding the most important issues is even harsher that it was at previous talks,” said the Deputy Foreign Minister Sergi Kapanadze.

He also said that unlike previous rounds, this time the Russian side was adamantly trying to tie everything to the issue of the status of the two breakaway regions in Georgia making it impossible to move forward even on minor issues, including on some concrete projects aimed at confidence-building measures on the grassroots level. “They [Moscow, Sukhumi and Tskhinvali] are putting discussions on even minor matters in deadlock by tying everything to the status issue”, said Kapanadze.

The recent talks were co-chaired by the newly appointed EU’s special representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia, Philippe Lefort. As he said talks were held in “a good working atmosphere”. Talks were also co-chaired by the UN representative Antti Turunen, who described the atmosphere during the recent round as “very good and business-like, giving hope for future discussions." Co-chair from OSCE, Giedrius Cekuolis, noted that the issue of non-use of force continues to be the main stumbling block in negotiations.

Lefort, a former French ambassador to Georgia, also said the statement by Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, made at the UN General Assembly regarding its “security guarantor” assumptions and non-use of force between the conflicting sides, also offering the US and EU to share the role of security guarantors, was raised during the Geneva talks and gave a rise to a number of comments.

As Kapanadze said after the talks, the co-chairs made a reference “in general” to this statement of Lavrov, but repeated Tbilisi’s long-standing position on the matter that Russia should be a party to any non-use of force agreement.

“There is no way Georgia, or any responsible member of the international community, can agree on this [Russia’s role as “guarantor of peace”], because Russia is a party to the conflict and any attempt from the side of Moscow to demonstrate itself as a mediator, as a guarantor is not going to work,” Kapanadze said regarding Lavrov’s proposal.

He also emphasized that Georgia had already made a unilateral non-use of pledge last November and now wanted Moscow to reciprocate with “a non-ambiguous statement that Russia is not going to attack Georgia and is not going to use force against Georgia."

Regarding security arrangements on the ground, Kapanadze said that Georgia aims at setting up international police and peacekeeping forces in the breakaway regions, but they realize it is currently unfeasible. Instead, Tbilisi was trying to move with “smaller steps”; the Georgian side initially wants the EU Monitoring Mission’s (EUMM) regular fact-finding visits to take place in breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia. A couple of such visits have taken place in the past when EUMM observers inspected incident sites within the breakaway regions. Tbilisi wants such potential regular visits to be followed with possible joint fact-finding visits with the inclusion of the Georgian side.

It looks like the Russian side tries to put even more pressure on Georgia by blocking every issue raised by the Georgian delegation. Tying humanitarian and security matters with status issue the Russian side drives the negotiations into a dead end, especially considering the fact that Tbilisi will in no way start negotiations on the status issue.